Editorials: General Idea and the Myth of Inhabitation


Whenever a person reveals something, one can ask: what is it supposed to conceal? From what is it supposed to divert the eyes? What prejudice is it supposed to arouse? And additionally: how far does the subtlety of this dissimulation go? And in what way has it failed?
                                                                                   Friedrich Nietzsche

1. Who is the sentence of use to?
2. Who does it claim to be of use to?
3. What does it call for?
4. What practical action corresponds to it?
5. What sort of sentences result from it? What sort of sentences support it?
6. In what situation is it spoken? By whom?
                                                                                    Bertolt Brecht [1]


An editorial is on the edge of a work. Peripheral to the work’s intent, it perhaps is an intention itself. Such is the intention here: to look at a selection of editorials from FILE Megazine a Toronto publication, edited and produced by General Idea as a networking tool and a vehicle for their own work.

The editorial first of all is a matter of language, like a caption or title. As such it seems to be outside the limits of art. Posing those limits from the outside, somehow language infiltrates an object or image, determining it—or at least directing us to its coherence within a meaning system, a language system. Determining the (seeming) effects of art, language likewise effects the discourse of art and, as such, editorializes. As the site of the work’s intentional effects, the editorial, moreover, is political. In order to discover, then, what art really is politically serving, we have to examine the language of its strategies—thus, my choice of the editorial here. For General Idea, however, the editorial is neither representative nor a stance. Its traditional role is subverted in their strategy. Or is it? If not,  editorials can be used to interrogate General Idea’s work.

Is the editorial fully intentional or not for General Idea? In the summer 1978 issue of FILE, “1984, A Year in Pictures,” the editorial states “the impossibility of writing editorials.” But General Idea had one intention: “We wanted to point out the function of ambiguity in our work, the way in which ambiguity ‘flips the meaning in and out of focus’ thus preventing the successful deciphering of the text (both visual and written) except on multiple levels.” They want to point out a strategy of plurality; yet this plurality is constructed. In the same issue, under “Three Heads Are Better” this statement appears:

Once we arrive at certain decisions, we go over our lines. Every decision is like a new word added to an expanding vocabulary. When we’re certain we’re all fluent we are ready to construct our structures. Constant rehearsal make the words second nature—let’s call it culture.

Language institutes value in the art system. At any one moment language composes the “totality” of the system of art and constructs its subjects—both the subject as what art can “say” and the subject as viewer. A system of interest, a system for the creation of value in its “disinterest,” a will to power of discourse, its “truth value” is established by the system and not by its commensurability to any reality—a truth value which is verified only by the function of the viewer.[2] Perhaps language is not so much a system to which art itself, galleries, museums, criticism and art history, and the popular press all contribute as an institution; not so much a system of utterances, which leads to the notion of transformation within a formal system, as a specialized rhetoric of the avant-garde.

In Toronto, this system of discourse is incomplete, although not undervalued. Its chain of mutually supporting elements is broken locally. So the discourse is dependent on our distance from a centre and our mode of reception of that centre’s dominant discourse through the art media—already a mediation of language. This discourse can be acted upon, however, to whatever degree it is understood or misunderstood in reception and application. Applied strategies then are part of this language system. Oriented to the discourse of the broader system that is disseminated to Toronto, through the transmission partly of FILE, these strategies have more to do with the manipulation of a sign system than with the material production of art objects themselves. Visual signs align themselves as a secondary system to the primary strategies, the always already there that comes from elsewhere. Artworks are constructed to prove the strategy as much as to illustrate it, that is, to effect it. They are never apart from a language enunciation or referred back to it as one element in the construction of the system. Once again the function of the editorial.

In its narrower intentional sense, a strategy develops from a concept given value under a name. Properly speaking, it is not exactly a concept. Moreover, this strategy, let alone a discourse, is not contained in any one work; nor is it necessarily registered as an individual intention. A strategy has something to do at first with the seduction of an attraction and then enters as a differential force into a system (becoming value and investment). It is necessary for criticism to examine whatever is represented by this “concept,” its role, logical position, its genealogy and consequences. It is necessary for criticism to take nothing at its word and everything at its word. We can start with the contemporary master strategies “appropriation” and “inhabitation.”

Inhabitation and appropriation are similar but not identical strategies. Perhaps inhabitation is merely the postmodernist inflection of the modernist strategy of appropriation, as if postmodernism was nothing but the passage of modernism through French Textual theory.[3] General Idea’s strategy is based more closely on the model of inhabitation and is enunciated as such. It is enunciated precisely because it is a formal language strategy, as is appropriation.

On our part, we collapse strategy into enunciation. We shall find that the enunciation formally effects the strategy and not that the work has an effect theorized by this enunciation. Here the two quotations from Nietzsche and Brecht that head this article come together—on the one hand dissimulation and on the other language at its word. A statement may dissimulate its intentions and be mistaken about its effects while it tells the truth about itself at the same time. (The dissimulation is not on the order of what is said, but in the strategy.) In spite of the intention of the artist, we take the work at its word, accept what the enunciation is actually saying with none of the irony its fictional and formal construction demands. By doing so we will realize its actual formal, rather than intentional, effects. That is, rather than presume that a statement fulfills a function within the structure of an intention, we immediately disregard the strategy and directly accept at face value what the statement is saying. Even General Idea in “The Miss General Idea Vehicle” tell us “you’ll just have to take our word for it for now.”

In “Myth Today” Roland Barthes stated: “We now know that myth is a type of speech defined by its intention … much more than by its literal sense …; and that in spite of this, its intention is somehow frozen, purified, made absent by this literal sense”.[4] Here I propose it is the opposite: that the literal definesmyth and not the intention; that the literal disguises its literality by directing us back to an intention—to what the artists enunciate. The intention of the strategy is the critical effect of inhabitation. And yet perhaps the literal tells the truth about itself and the truth of its form. For instance, if a General Idea inhabits capitalism as a “positive” model of appropriation, we can put the strategy in suspension (i.e., the supposed critique) and view this statement positively. We thereby question whether the critical device itself is not in turn a tool of capitalism, that its form is not the same. Perhaps the supposed content is only a disguise (a fetish) for form and its reproduction. Is this strategy of inhabitation then a critique of capitalism or a ruse of capitalism?

More than three individuals, who after all are protected by a name, it is a strategy whose value I am questioning today. I could trace the influences on General Idea through the history of their work. Influence, however, is a notion that only diverts us from examining the form of the strategy itself. It is on the level of form rather than content that this strategy in the end rests. What follows then is not a game of parodies, plagiarism or tracking influences.


I do not want to belittle either the history or enterprise of General Idea. They have done much to create a scene and a place for art in Toronto. Their effort in doing so, however, is marked by the consequences of this necessity. That is, the structure of their work reflects their endeavour and the lack it signifies. In a place where art has no history, function or value, art cannot establish or take a critical or class position: any critique it attempts floats. The necessity of making a scene, of creating their own institutions of support and distribution—their own and others’ patronage so to speak—has infiltrated their work as a metalevel. More than ironical distancing, this “support structure” and metalevel at the same time, as an element of the enunciation of the work’s discourse, collapse form and content together. Rather than a critique of support structures and ideology in general, their strategies have raised the work in its entirety to the metalevel, a superstructural “support” that is ideology itself. General Idea’s resort to ambiguity, the multiplicity of meanings, and an expanding system of verbal puns and paradoxes, all referenced to current theories of interpretation or textual reading and their own self-referencing system, reflect the form of capitalism they wish to criticize. In the end, do they accommodate us too readily to this reality without the means to show us what is real about it?

In accommodating us to this reality, the work directs us away from the contents of experience to the forms of capitalist ideology. This tendency away from the real, however problematic the term “real,” is the mutual point of my critique of General Idea and my comments on French theory (i.e., structuralism, semiotics, deconstruction), a critique of the construction of a theoretical model and the construction of “The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion,” both of which substitute themselves for the real on an ideological level. The points I wish to make are that inhabitation is the creation of a formal system; that its effects are merely a formal operation; that it has a tendency to distance itself from the real in instituting its own operations as a system of value; and that consequently its critique reproduces the existing order that it attempts to subvert.

Discussing General Idea’s work I shall concentrate on four issues of FILE: (1) the fall 1975 “Glamour” issue; (2) the summer 1978 “1984, A Year in Pictures” issue; (3) the fall 1979 “Transgressions” issue; and (4) the March 1981 “$UCCE$$” issue. In this way I want to show that the stylistic and conceptual set-up that seems to lead so “naturally” within its overdetermined cultural forms from “Glamour” to “$UCCE$$” has not been founded on capitalism as a found object—the theme of the last issue—but that capitalism is the driving force of their work. The dependency on semiotics has consequences. Just as imperialism is “the highest stage of capitalism,” so perhaps semiotics is capitalism’s most thoroughly developed cultural form, capitalism at its most rationalized.


“Glamour” was General Idea’s global sign of 1975 and the subject of a special issue of FILE. FILE of course is General Idea’s parody, appropriation, and inhabitation of LIFE, the American photo-magazine. FILE duplicates LIFE’s picture-commentary format, but turns it into a semiotic object for mythification in the reverse of LIFE’s role of ideological formation of mass consciousness. Yet, it is not LIFE that is analyzed or deconstructed as much as its format that is lifted. Actually the concepts behind the “Glamour” issue that determine General Idea’s future work rather are derived from Barthes’s semiology. Providing both the strategy and form for their work, these operations that institutes their work have two stages. First, a system is set up that formalizes itself; second, the system then maintains itself. The first consequence of formalization is the loss of an original referent; the second is self-reference. Something is lost in formalization in return for the construction of a self-history—namely history. Semiology is used as a means to construct General Idea’s own self-referential system rather than to analyze myth. General Idea adopt it in order to create their own myth.

With this FILE issue, we immediately encounter the problem of proliferation of the editorial. The whole issue, or at least that devoted to General Idea, is an extended editorial, an allegory of General Idea’s enterprise. The editorial enters into the whole production as a simulation. “All myth and no content. Or is it vice versa?”

Within this inhabitation of LIFE magazine is another story we all know:

This is the story of General Idea and the story of what we wanted.

We wanted to be famous, glamourous and rich. That is to say we wanted to be artists and we knew that if we were famous and glamourous we could say we were artists and we would be.

We never felt we had to produce great art to be great artists. We knew great art did not bring glamour and fame. We knew we had to keep a foot in the door of art and we were conscious of the importance of berets and paint brushes. We made public appearances in painters’ smocks. We knew that if we were famous and glamourous we could say we were artists and we would be. We did and we are. We are famous, glamourous artists.

Is this enunciation their “real” strategy and intention or one statement within another strategy that is more properly the discourse and form of their art? Like conceptual art that asserts itself as art through the procedures of tautology, declaration or context, this language work declares itself: “we could say we were artists and we would be. We did and we are.” Seemingly performative, this enunciation strategy, however, is tautologous, a mirror image of itself, the mirage of a constitutive act if we do not accept its contract with us.

Both format and role are inhabited by General Idea. The format provides the vehicle for the elaboration of the role:

What is artificiality? We knew in order to be artists and to be glamourous artists we had to be artificial and we were. We knew in order to be artificial we had to affect a false nature, disguising ourselves ineffectually as natural objects: businessmen, beauty queens, even artists themselves.

The image of the artist is the easiest to inhabit. Because of its historic richness, its ready but empty mythology (berets, paint brushes, palettes, in a word FORM without content) the shell which was art was simple to invade. We made art our home and assuming appearances strengthened by available myth, occupied art’s territory. Thus we became glamourous, made art, made ourselves over in the image of art . . .

We are obsessed with available form. We maneuver hungrily, conquering the uncontested territory of culture’s forgotten shells—beauty pageants, pavillions, picture magazines, and other contemporary corpses. Like parasites we animate these dead bodies and speak in alien tongues.

Inhabitation is an operation where forms are taken over. General Idea enunciate two strategic operations. One is “Stolen Lingo” which is a parasitic strategy of plagiarism: “We knew that in order to be glamourous we had to become plagiarists, intellectual parasites. We moved in on history and occupied images, emptying them of meaning, reducing them to shells.” The other is “Image Lobotomy”: “Glamourous objects events have been brutally emptied of meaning that parasitic but cultured meaning might be housed there. Thus Glamour is the result of a brief but brilliant larceny: image is stolen and restored, but what is restored?” Replacement instills ambiguity—meaning is solicited and then shaken: “A resonance that is ambiguity flips the image in and out of context. Layers of accumulated meaning snap in and out of focus.” Context and content alternate between being culture and nature, nature and culture.

The “object” of this? What is Glamour? It is myth.

An American literary modernism and postmodernism from Gertrude Stein to William Burroughs informs this work. So do French structuralism and semiology. With all the mention of the nature-culture interchange in the “Glamour” issue we might think of this signature of structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. But with the naturalizing of what is historical, we more readily turn to semiology’s popularization in the work of Roland Barthes.
Let’s look at Barthes’s essay “Myth Today” in his Mythologies, published in 1957 and translated in 1972. In this methodological afterward, Barthes applied semiology not to objects far afield, as in the case of Lévi-Strauss’s primitive societies and their myths, but to those objects and meaning systems close at hand: to movies and movie stars, sports events and pastimes, magazine articles, consumer products, etc., to a whole “mythology” of everyday bourgeois life of petit-bourgeois ideological formation. Barthes made these “objects” culturally significant for the first time.

In one form or another we all know the theory of this book; it itself has become naturalized in our critical discourse. To reiterate, Barthes saw contemporary “myth” as a second-order semiological system:

In myth, we find again the tridimensional pattern which I have just described: the signifier, the signified and the sign. But myth is a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain which existed before it; it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign (namely the associative total of a concept and an image) in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second. We must here recall that the materials of mythical speech (the language itself, photography, painting, posters, rituals, objects, etc.), however different at the start, are reduced to a pure signifying function as soon as they are caught by myth. Myth sees in them only the same raw material; their unity is that they all come down to the status of a mere language. Whether it deals with alphabetical or pictorial writing, myth wants to see in them only a sum of signs, a global sign, the final term of a first semiological chain. And it is precisely this final term which will become the first term of the greater system which it builds and of which it is only a part (p. 114-115).

If Glamour equals myth, let’s use Barthes’s essay to explicate and throw some light on the myth of General Idea. In “Stolen Lingo” when General Idea say “We knew Glamour was not an object, not an action, not an idea,” Barthes adds “myth cannot possibly be an object, a concept, or an idea” (p. 109). When General Idea continue, “We knew Glamour never emerged from the ‘nature’ of things,” Barthes too continues that myth “cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things” (p. 110). When talking of the mythified image Barthes writes, “if myth did not take hold of it and did not turn it suddenly into an empty, parasitical form” (p. 117), General Idea elaborates, “We knew that in order to be glamourous we had to become plagiarists, intellectual parasites. We moved in on history and occupied images, emptying them of meaning, reducing them to shells.”

In “Objet d’Art,” when General Idea unashamedly exclaim, “An object exhibits unashamedly a closure and a brilliance, in a word a SILENCE which belongs to the world of myth,” Barthes has “anticipated” them in saying “Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state.” (p. 109). Here General Idea seem to reverse Barthes except that “Glamourous objects open themselves like whores to meaning, answering need with vacancy, waiting to be penetrated by the act of recognition.”

In “Gestures,” General Idea tell us that objects are related to gestures: “This sign is repeated endlessly, becomes thick with accumulated meaning. The gesture becomes raw matter for myth.” Barthes tells us what to make of General Idea’s gesture: “This repetition of the concept through different forms is precious to the mythologist, it allows him to decipher the myth: it is the insistence of a kind of behaviour which reveals its intentions” (p. 120).

When in “Artificiality,” General Idea tell us that they “are obsessed with available form. We maneuver hungrily, conquering the uncontested territory of culture’s forgotten shells,” Barthes explains myth and General Idea: “But in general myth prefers to work with poor, incomplete images, where the meaning is already relieved of its fat, and ready for a signification, such as caricatures, pastiches, symbols, etc.” (p. 127).

In “Image Lobotomy,” General Idea continue parasitically on the parasitic: “Glamourous objects events have been brutally emptied of meaning that parasitic but cultured meaning might be housed there. Thus Glamour is the result of a brief but brilliant larceny: image is stolen and restored, but what is restored? Memories are blurred. Details have been erased. The image moves with the awkward grace of the benumbed, slave to a host of myths.” Barthes: “This is because myth is speech stolen and restored. Only, speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back, it was not put exactly in its place. It is this brief act of larceny, this moment taken for a surreptitious faking, which gives mythical speech its benumbed look” (p. 125). And again General Idea: “A resonance which is ambiguity flips the image in and out of context. Layers of accumulated meaning snap in and out of focus. Myths hide behind the mask of ‘real’ images; the shifty eyes of cultural content watch through the loopholes of natural context.” Barthes: “I shall say that the signification of the myth is constituted by a sort of constantly moving turnstile which presents alternately the meaning of the signifier and its form, a language-object and a metalanguage, a purely signifying and a purely imagining consciousness” (p. 123). “And that is Glamour.” However, as Barthes adds, “reality stops the turnstile revolving at a certain point” (p. 123).

Perhaps this policing exercise does not explicate “Glamour” as much as throw some light on General Idea. For what is “Glamour” after all but a vehicle for building the myth of General Idea. The term does not have to be consistent, name a referent or mean anything: it has a pure sign function of zero symbolic value. Yet, speech stolen and restored does not seem to give us as much as the “original” in the analysis of an object: its surreptitious faking is benumbed. In terms of effectivity, it only effects itself, which is an act that determines whether we are interested or not, whether we have an interest, investment or stock in General Idea. (I don’t want to imply that General Idea’s dependency is negative and Barthes’s critique positive. Barthes’s drift from the social, political position of “Myth Today” cannot be left uncommented.)

Barthes introduces three concepts that in turn will structure General Idea’s enterprise: metalanguage, appropriation, and artificial myth. Barthes says that myth is a second-order semiological system. “It can be seen that in myth there are two semiological systems, one of which is staggered in relation to the other: a linguistic system, the language (or the modes of representation which are assimilated to it), which I shall call the language-object, because it is the language which myth gets hold of in order to build its own system; and myth itself, which I shall call metalanguage, because it is a second language, in which one speaks about the first” (p. 115). Barthes calls the two denotation and connotation respectively. He immediately goes on to write: “When he reflects on a metalanguage, the semiologist no longer needs to ask himself questions about the composition of the language-object, he no longer has to take into account the details of the linguistic schema; he will only need to know its total term, or global sign, and only inasmuch as this term lends itself to myth” (p. 115).

What happens to the “original” object or sign system? How is it reconstituted? Or is it lost altogether in the formalization of the system and loss of detail to the global? Like the semiologist, General Idea construct a third-order semiological system (eventuating in the “Pavillion”) but with the difference that theirs is developed from semiology itself and built up from a self-referring and proliferating discourse that the artists instituted themselves. What starts out as material for the second-order system is emptied by myth. What starts out as material for the third-order system of General Idea’s art—LIFE magazine, popular culture formats, etc., that is, the language-object—in turn is forgotten in favour of the system itself, which now presumes as its object the functioning of the system itself. This system is at a third remove from the “real.” Was there ever an original object, we may ask? If a system of connotation takes over the signs of another system in order to turn them into its own signifiers, we may find that General Idea’s is not a system of connotation at all, not a mythology, but a myth on another order. Their work follows the tendency towards the disappearance between language-object and metalanguage that we also find in Barthes. Metalanguage becomes its own primary (performative) language—language-object and language in one: a textual system. The history of this system and the story of General Idea become the function and maintenance of their system. Moreover, the system’s formal reproduction and expansion extend temporally forwards and backwards. General Idea’s work can accommodate itself to anything that is in the air, or to any revision: “Glamour is the perfect simulation for ongoing battles, the perfect tool for reshaping history: adding, substituting, indeed MAKING history.”

Since the audience is captured by this self-referential and, therefore, closed system whose discourse they do not control (they can learn it and thus participate in a manner by their consumption), since the audience is arrested in this manner, General Idea can maintain the basics of the system and add new product lines occasionally, just like General Motors.[5] The original referent was lost long ago in this specular play of reflecting images. Not only does their work mimic myth, it repeats it on a higher, more sophisticated level. General Idea's work fetishizes the mythic process rather than demystifies it.

Semiology repeats the fundamental character of myth—appropriation: “in this sense, we can say that the fundamental character of the mythical concept is to be appropriated” (Barthes, p. 119). Myth undergoes the same fate under the gaze of the mythologist. Whereas in myth it is the concept or the image that is appropriated, for semiology it is the form and for General Idea the format. Contrary to myth which saturates the image in a naturality that disguises its political act, the operations of appropriation in semiology and inhabitation (General Idea) are openly given a political character. “Glamour replaces Marxism as the single revolutionary statement of the twentieth century,” say General Idea. Or, in Barthes’s words:

It thus appears that it is extremely difficult to vanquish myth from the inside: for the very effort one makes in order to escape from its stranglehold becomes in its turn the prey of myth: myth can always, as a last resort, signify the resistance which is brought to bear against it. Truth to tell, the best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it in its turn, and to produce an artificial myth: and this reconstituted myth will in fact be a mythology. Since myth robs language of something, why not rob myth? All that is needed is to use it as the departure point for a third semiological chain, to take its signification as the first term of a second myth (Barthes, p. 135).

Metalanguage becomes artificial myth through appropriation.

In metalanguage, appropriation, and artificial myth, we have General Idea’s procedures in a shell, the operant language for the rest of their work (as a structure: metalanguage; a method which is its content: appropriation; and a presentation: artificial myth). The tendency of the work repeats myth: as a process of structuring away from the real; that institutes itself as a system of value, rather than fact; and that in turn is justified by reference to its “object.” In order, these raise the issues of reification, capital, and simulation.

Taking inhabitation at its word, what is the relation between content (meaning) emptied from the format and content, not restored, but inserted into the “same” format—called “cultural content” or “cultured meaning” by General Idea in “Image Lobotomy”? The new content, that which is said by General Idea, is the announcement of a strategy. Already this strategy seems to be working on the level of a critique rather than content in which case it would be formal. There is no clear form-content dichotomy because there is only form (“in a word FORM without content”). And what is the effect? Content is not substantiated, effected or effective in any way. It is a method that is effected, that is, instituted as a structure. The effect of the method is the same as the enunciation of the strategy, which is to say there is no critical effect. To say that content here is in any way effected is to fetishize it, to turn it into a form: “All myth and no content? Or is it vice versa?”

Content in General Idea’s work is an enunciated operation that effects itself formally. One formal operation of signs is inserted into another, the latter the format of what is being “inhabited.” When General Idea empty the “content” and insert their own, can this result in the same form or object? Yes, only insofar as the “object” remains formal. Exchanging signifiers through an operation of substitution restores or reproduces the code. Once more the referent is lost in the play of the signifiers of the system. But the referent was never there. FILE has only the superficial appearance of LIFE. In the end, signifiers are not even exchanged; a formal system of signifiers is constructed through an enunciation process that is saying something else. As its own object, metalanguage constructs itself and tells us about itself at the same time. Its content can only be this formal process of self-referentiality, never an analysis or description (General Idea tell us, however, that they do not want to describe, they want to be critical). General Idea’s works effect themselves within language conventions. This must be a learned language with a constituency or audience whose competency can register its effects, transgressions, and displacements within the conceptual structure that has been designed, an artwork that is never a critique, only the announcement of an intentional affect.


The repository of the “acts” or image of “Glamour” is the “Pavillion.” The “Pavillion” is constructed from fragments of myth, like Lévi-Strauss’s bricolage. Myth is a system of value: there is no adequation between it and the real. Barthes confirms: “any semiological system is a system of value; now the myth-consumer takes the signification for a system of facts: myth is read as a factual system, whereas it is nothing but a semiological system” (p. 131). Yet, in a way that Barthes’s own career did not confirm, because a textual “revolution” took place, “reality stops the turnstile [or General Idea’s Venetian mirrors flipping the image in and out of context, we might add] revolving a certain point.” Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi: “it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an ‘elsewhere’ at its disposal” (p. 123). “The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion” is a spatialization of this metaphor, although it does not have to appear in space. Except for the “Pavillion” there is no one place which is true or full and the other artificial or absent—it is all simulation. The “Pavillion” is a perpetual alibi in process.

Having instituted itself as a system, it now maintains this system. But it has to dissolve the levels between language-object and metalanguage. The “Pavillion” itself becomes this site of discourse: the “Pavillion” is a textual system. As “defining the limits of the project,” take the example of the Hoarding, exhibited in front of the Carmen Lamanna Gallery in 1975 and described in FILE (Summer 1978), “1984, A Year in Pictures,” as well as in a videotape. It is everywhere, that is, “decentered”:

Traditionally you would call it de-centralized but we see it as “widely centralized.” We never refer to the sites of the Pavillion. Only the site. It’s a singular site with multiple points of view. The fact that there are several locales where activity takes place only expands the centre. Our centre is defined by the circumference and the Hoarding is a sort of tool that allows us to expand the centre to any of its installations.

It has no referent other than its own construction:

... the Hoarding stands entirely on its own and has nothing to hide. You can see it on the surface, you can see around it and you can even see through it. There’s nothing more to it than meets the eye.

And it is composed of a string or chain of signifiers, a pure fabrication that does not need a referent or content, as is said of “The Miss General Idea Vehicle”:

We’ve tried to underline the fact that there is nothing behind it. No verso to speak of. The task of stringing together enough evidence to present this case is a labour of pure fabrication.

Because it is a system of value, signifiers can exchange among themselves outside of any relation to a referent. As Jean Baudrillard has written, it is precisely because they do not exchange against the real that they can exchange among themselves. The model of floating value is of course capital.[6]

All referential value is lost in the structural play of value. This structural dimension autonomizes itself to the exclusion of the referential dimension. In its autonomy the system itself is a fetish. This tendency away from the real creates and valorizes a closed system: the fetishized “Objet d’Art” of “Glamour.” A commentary on the fetish, it is a fetish itself, not an object, but a system. A system may be closed while appearing telescopic or expansive, an empty frame projecting into a seeming spatial or temporal structure:

THE FRAME OF REFERENCE is basically this: a framing device within which we inhabit the role of the general public, the audience, the media. Mirrors mirroring mirrors expanding and contracting to the focal point of view and including the lines of perspective bisecting the successive frames to the vanishing point. The general public, the audience, the media playing the part of the sounding board, the comprehensive framework outlining whatever meets their eye.

“Ideological discourse,” Baudrillard writes, “is also built up out of a redundancy of signs, and in extreme cases, forms a tautology. It is through this specularity, this ‘mirage within itself’ that it conjures away conflicts and exercises its power.” [7]

This system, however, always entertains and encounters a crisis: it is always close to death in its perfection. But this crisis is not destruction. Destruction enters the system as its mirror image. For construction, there is destruction, and for composition, decomposition: the “Pavillion” was “destroyed” in 1977.[8] These are only terms of absolute exchange: interchangeability and reversibility, which can only occur in a formal system. Destruction only opens a new possibility of exploitation. In Reconstructing Futures, “General Idea were forced to assume new careers as archeologists as they sifted through the rubble attempting to locate the many missing and presumed lost pieces.”[9] This destruction can be accommodated as the mirror image of the project, its absolute reversibility, what is always already inscribed in the logic of the system. In this destruction there is no change of form andcontent is changed only insofar as the source has changed, and insofar as this source has become a new model of enunciation. Reconstructing futures is a framework and process for maintaining the system in its seeming changes (according to the demands of the time, a change of appearance, not model, i.e., fashion), to enable it to keep open to the possibility of new objects on the order of archaeology (I could say capitalism instead). Reconstructing futures is an archaeology in reverse, excavating futures’ images from the recent past; that is, its subject is myth. That is the image; there is the caption as well. Archaeology for General Idea is only another word for self-reference.

FILE “1984, A Year in Pictures” then is one manifestation of the “Pavillion,” and the “work” on it. While this issue catalogues ten years of General Idea’s work and thus is at a lag with their then current work, the editorial, which is of the moment, announces a “crisis.” We know that that crisis for them was not the crisis of reversibility. Rather a text is pulled into crisis: “The nature of criticism, like the nature of puns, is to pull a ‘text’ into crisis. The nature of our work then is ‘critical’, as opposed to descriptive,” say these “hard-core post-Marxist theoreticians.” “We wanted to point out the function of ambiguity in our work, the way in which ambiguity ‘flips the meaning in and out of focus,’ thus preventing the successful deciphering of the text (both visual and written) except on multiple levels. Curiously, many of you choose only to read one side to any story. Since we give a wide range of choices (and we are conscious of the politics of choice) we are never sure which side you, our readers, will take.”

Under the name of plurality: “We do it all for you”—the indexes of advertising. Consume the multiple levels of ambiguity of General Idea. There is always another interpretation or product to “capture” you—“You—You’re the One.” Multiplicity and ambiguity, flipping the image in and out of focus, moving the turnstile, in other words, consumption enters the infrastructure. Capitalist production and consumption model the process of meaning and its structuring.

What is this text and its crises? There are two or three disruptions which become critical for General Idea. They are a secret crisis for them not only because their sources but the whole manner of their rhetoric of enunciation change. We shall find that the crisis of the text, though, is also a secret continuity. 1957 meets 1972 in 1977. And here we meet the problem of translation and dissemination. What was an historical trajectory in the hands of a few French writers (Barthes, Derrida, Deleuze) offers itself all at once in translation. Barthes’s text “Myth Today” published in 1957 is translated in 1972 (Mythologies), the year that Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is published in France only to wait until 1977 for its translation. Barthes’s other texts were being translated as well as Foucault’s and they were all available for exchange at the end of the decade.[10]

One disruption enters to inflect the editorial: Barthes’s adoption of a Textual theory over semiotics. One consequence is the destruction of metalanguage by textual activity, but General Idea had already accomplished this.[11] The other is the text’s plurality: “the multivalence of the text, its partial reversibility.”[12] This disruption affects the text of General Idea’s writing. The others will effect the social “text” of their work—the irruption of the body through Foucault’s later writing and the fortuitous subject-group in Deleuze and Guattari.

The crisis is the transformation that the crisis, or the concept of crisis, demands. The crisis is the seeming transformation from a closed system to anarchy. Desire liberates itself from the closed system of the fetish object to anarchy, from the objet d’art to the social body in flux. The crisis, however, is only symptomatic of the system: it does not come from outside anymore than reversibility did. The fetishized object disguises the system which is the fetish itself. The system in fact operates this other “fetish” (the object or subject) as a nodal point, as a symptom. The system can accommodate this now irruption, or adoption and insertion, because it itself chooses to initiate a new economy of force.

Returning a year to 1977, to the “Punk ‘til you Puke” issue of FILE, an article by AA Bronson, “Pogo Dancing in the British Aisles,” initiates all the themes and strategies that will have to be integrated into General Idea’s structure. No problem: they are the system at its most intensive. We are introduced to the themes: desiring anti-capitalism; anarchy; the group; and desiring machines.[13] We move from questions of ideology to those of productivity; from the general ideology (myth) of Miss General Idea to that of the practice of the trio General Idea; from ideology/myth to the material productivity of the group. These of course are the themes of Anti-Oedipus, that infectious book of 1972, disseminated in North America in translation in 1977 and through subsequent issues of the journal Semiotext(e).

It is impossible to discuss the issues devolving from that article and its borrowings from Anti-Oedipus’s tool-box. All I can do is point out the rhetorical ease with which the anti-family, anti-hierarchy, anti-representation of the homosexual group appear and replace a whole political debate with each term. If we can measure the effectivity of these terms in political action, how do we account for the assimilation of a theoretical textual model to gay erotics (or erotics in general) when for General Idea this ends in the “dog eat dog eat dog” language of their poodles, the image of their current work? Not even good taste is transgressed here.

Political economy has become acquainted with a libidinal economy on the authority of a textual theory. A new semiotics bases itself not on linguistics but on the symptomatic condensations and displacements of the unconscious (Freud/Lacan) and the death drive (Lyotard). From the text we leap to the “social text.” A crisis is exposed in the social body, first on the model of the psychoanalytic unconscious, and then on the model of the productive anti-Oedipal unconscious, on the schizo and desiring machines. What has been taken as a formal operation within the text, in the “production” of the text, is projected onto the concrete real in order to implicate contradictions of that order there. The world is made into a text in order to read symptoms there, which is another way to say that the real does not exist. This is an imposition of a language strategy, not an analysis. Formal “revolution” presumes to lead to political revolution (at least within these relative spheres of choice: sexuality, etc.). One has done one’s duty in theory, if not in practice. A language operation has taken for itself the value of political action. But what do these operations within the text implicate in its utopia of infinite productivity and interchangeability other than a capitalist authority, process, and strategy?[14]

What is projected into the social realm—desire—is returned to the subject of the audience as symptomatic and disruptive affect/effect. The subject is only a subject-effect, a symptom as much inhabited as it is a disruptive relay in the network of desire. Ideological critique and inhabitation come together here. Each presumes an effect, and for both the individual is only a position or a subject within a system of effects. (The system both analyze is also the system both impose on the subject.) Ideological critique: that ideology effects (arrests, captures, interpellates) the individual as a subject—a form effecting the contents of consciousness by the very constituting of subjecthood. Inhabitation: that its formal processes (changing the contents of an inhabited form) have a disruptive critical effect—the subject is an affect, a subject-in-process that can be formally disrupted. Here contents seem to be displaced from consciousness to the material body—the symptomatic body composed by desire.

The body in fact now becomes a signal-theme. Text equals body, and both are productive machines. So the body, its cutting up, fetishizing and framing, its surveillance, familial—Oedipal—restraints (the cutting up of sexual drives) become the themes of General Idea’s “Consenting Adults” exhibition of 1979. But the display of work like An Anatomy of Censorship, Autopsy and Geometry of Censorship only signal the breakdown of structure and superstructure (of ideology and repression on one hand and the subject on the other) in the levelling of differences in the production of desire. It does not matter that organs are differentiated, repressed or exposed here: they are set into motion as a system of interchangeability.

Semiotext(e)’s “Schizo-Culture” issue of 1978 informs, more than liberates this discourse. So do the notions of surveillance and power in Foucault’s interview “The Eye of Power” published in that issue, as well as the study of the political technology of the body of his Discipline and Punish (1975; trans. 1978), and the analysis of the intensification and proliferation of discourses on sexuality of his History of Sexuality (1976; 1978) contribute to the shift of focus in the frame of reference. This “schizo” period, reaching its peak of dissemination in North America in the late seventies, was symptomatic of the intensification of capitalism’s effects in its crises of the seventies (reaching its full economic and concrete political effects around 1980). While its theoretical and ideological effects had been loosed earlier, it is the present political effects that allow this analysis now. The structure perhaps was only rearticulating itself. Desire’s weakening of the superstructure Bronson indicated in “Pogo Dancing” only served to generalize the capitalist code of desire at all levels.

This crisis of disorder will be resolved by a return to order (not yet the notorious “re-materialization of the art object” announced in FILE in 1981). It will be resolved by a return to form, a return to the format. The crisis is to be resolved by “effectivity.” Punk is just another format. This return to order is a “pragmatic anarchy” as the editorial to the Punk issue of FILE concludes. What Punk means here is that inhabitation is effectivity and effectivity is anarchism, i.e., critical disruption. But it is also an audience: “Obviously art that has effect is art that has an audience.” And it will lead to success in the market.


We never dispute that order in the elegance of General Idea, and their restraint. What could be more elegant and restrained than transgression? And what could be more responsible than trendiness: “These days a friend visiting General Idea is likely to be served a new drink—‘trendy responsibility’; a ratio, a balance, a borderline case, one of the many effective cocktails available at General Idea’s newly opened Colour Bar Lounge... Yes, “trendy, is a word to be grappled with, as ‘glamour’ once was,” the editorial for the special “Transgressions” issue of FILE (Fall 1979) says.

Transgression, then. On the one hand, transgression is another form of inhabitation leading to effectivity. The locale of this inhabitation is no longer just a format, but a location of activity: at the limit. No longer is the body just symptomatic: it is perverse. On the other hand, transgression seems to be merely a matter of choice. The limit then is within, not at the edge.[15] “Mix together a few of the ingredients found on the following pages—we call them transgressions. Cultural, social, political, sexual, take your pick.” This mere choice is effective: “Certainly there is one peak moment when trendiness rises to its most effective, when it becomes a powerful tool for dealing with existing structures. It blooms for a night or a season, and then is consumed by what many call Capitalist chaos.” This generalization of every level and distinction (as in the article “Pogo Dancing”) to a matter of choice is not a tool for dealing with existing structures; it is a tool of those existing structures: capitalism. What General Idea express for the edge, “transgression,” operates and reproduces itself in the centre as choice; and the centre reproduces itself on the edge in expansion (i.e., appropriation), which remains in the interior (e.g., the Hoarding)—captured, capturing. What is transgression but a matter of choice of what is offered: just one more discoverable, marketable and consumable position within a system of structured oppositions: dual: fascism-anarchism; multiple: sexual organs-orifices. For whatever—drinks, sex, ideologies, theories—mix and match. Whatever your taste, the system supports it, having created its possibility. You are capitalism’s “test tubes.”

General Idea have chosen the highest form of capitalism, the multinational corporation, as a model for their art. Their own form of parasitic imperialism, appropriation, expands itself through an enunciation strategy similar to imperialism that expands itself on the basis of the export of capital rather than commodities. All the same, the realization of value bases itself on the structure of the commodity. But General Idea are also entrepreneurs. [16]

The editorial asks: “And what name shall we give to that distance that separates the trendy from the avant-garde?” General Idea answer, always be ahead of that “Capitalistic chaos”: “a responsible trendy is never consumed. S/he is consummated. Letting oneself be consumed is sheer irresponsibility, like developing a drinking problem. Our role? Like customs agents on the borders of acceptance, we smuggle transgressions back into the picture, mixing doubles out of the ingredients of prohibition.” Restraint, manipulation, the format. Is one fooling oneself in thinking that one is ever ahead when the process itself is capitalistic? General Idea are not customs agents but active importers - the advance guard of a national capitalism in their transvaluation of value through FILE magazine and their work. On that seeming border which is a line of words within their own system, like merchant middlemen, they weigh value against value; and they are responsible for the change of value through the furthering of a system of value. They are purveyors of choice, with products as values and values as products, within the limits of the structural and systemic model that is here the art world. They really are the businessmen they play and say they are.[17]


We must get into the habit of paying strict attention to precisely what the fascist has to say and not to dismiss it as nonsense or hogwash.

In talks with the followers of the National Socialist party and especially with members of the SA, it was clearly brought out that the revolutionary phraseology of National Socialism was a decisive factor in the winning over of these masses.
                                                                                 Wilhelm Reich

One of the lessons which Hitler has taught us is that it is better not to be too clever... There is a historical tendency for cleverness to prove stupid. Reasonableness in the sense that Chamberlain called Hitler’s demands at Bad Godesberg “unreasonable” is all very well if the balance of give and take is respected. Reason is based on exchange. Specific objectives should only be achieved, as it were on the open market, through the small benefits which power can obtain by playing off one concession against another and following the rules of the game. But cleverness becomes meaningless as soon as power ceases to obey the rules and chooses direct appropriation instead. The medium of the traditional bourgeois intelligence—that is, discussion—then breaks down.
                                                                                 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno

FASCISM AND ANARCHY JOIN FORCES TO CREATE A WORK OF ART: “The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion was the first concrete manifestation of that uneasy union we now take for granted, the first project where fascism and anarchy could join forces to create a work of art—and they did.”
                                                                                 General Idea [18]

With the juxtaposition of the above quotations and the demand for work at its word, rather than formal work on the word, a demand for “crude thinking,” I may be mistaken in failing into the trap of taking a textual system for communication, or a formal apparatus for political rhetoric. Does art claim different criteria for judging its statements within its own frame when at the same time it claims a critical effectivity, a critical disruption of forms and consciousness which therefore is a political act? Horkheimer and Adorno identify another sense to the word “appropriation.” When things are not taken at their word, what type of aesthetic system does this signify, and, more importantly perhaps, what type of social place for art? It is my belief, and not only my belief, that something changed socially and politically in 1980 as a culmination of the economic crises of the seventies; that the strategies that were theoretically “correct” in the middle to late seventies and that could circulate without referential consequence are no longer applicable today; and that their pursuit turns them into exactly the opposite: radical art legitimizing the accepted order.

Where does this leave us with General Idea? There is the FILE editorial for the “$UCCE$$” issue. Published in March 1981, it seems to recognize the change in political climate. “WE BELIEVE: Reagan’s recent budget and Toronto’s police raids are signals to the left from the right to occupy battle positions, assume territorial stances (oh, the old routines) and act out the importance of being earnest.” But we know that there is no single position for General Idea, recognizing the Anti-Oedipal irony of this statement and remembering “The Battleground” and “battle stances” of the “Glamour” issue where “Glamour replaces Marxism as the single revolutionary statement of the twentieth century.” “Post-Marxist” and never “earnest,” General Idea “mobilize gossip columns against fascism in BZZZ BZZZ BZZZ.”

There is the editorial, and then there is the specular identity of their objects. Money recognizes money in a formal tautological system: “Approach success as being reflexive and cash-referential.” When we come to the products, to the “re-materialization of the art object,” in an object like the dollar sign Liquid Assets (1980), part of The Boutique from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion (1980), which sells products as much as it sells General Idea’s system (FILE, etc.), do we really need to continue the analysis or is this specular tautology enough? In the objects as much as in the system we have an image at its word.

General Idea’s videotape Test Tube (1979-80) recapitulates all the themes of inhabitation of their earlier work. “Think of capitalism as another format we can occupy and fill with our content,” says Jorge in the “Colour Bar Lounge.” From myth, we end in end in capitalism. And we find that effectivity actually does equal capitalism. And if we could say earlier about myth and inhabitation that the operation that General Idea employed was a formal operation that repeated myth; what can we say of the inhabitation of capitalism as a found format: that in mirrors mirroring mirrors, General Idea have discovered their tautology, image and fetish in capitalism?[19]


1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), sect. 523, p. 208. John Willet, trans. and ed., Brecht on Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), p. 106. This article was originally delivered as a lecture entitled “Sentences on Art” in the YYZ (Toronto) “A Critical Structure(ing)” series, November 22,1982.

2. Pierre Bourdieu discusses investment in a formal system of value, in his case the philosophical institution, which is applicable here: “in the beginning is the illusio, adherence to the game, the belief of whoever is caught in the game, the interest for the game, interest in the game, the founding of value, investment in both the economic and psychoanalytic sense. The institution is inseparable from the founding of a game, which as such is arbitrary, and from the constitution of the disposition to be taken in by the game, whereby we lose sight of the arbitrariness of its founding and, in the same stroke, recognize the necessity of the institution.... The most fundamental reasons for acting are rooted in the illusio, that is in the relation, itself not recognized as such, between a field of play and a habitus, as that sense of the game which confers on the game and on its stakes their determining or, better, their motivating power. The arbitrary founding of value and of sense, an arbitrary founding which is unaware of itself as such and which is lived as the submission to a natural necessity or to universal values, illusio, investment, involvement, interest, all these are products of the logic of a field and serve, in turn, as the condition of its functioning. The establishment of history in things and in bodies causes the body politic, like the biological body, to be inhabited by a sort of tendency to persevere in its state of being, and to place individuals in the service of its own production.” Pierre Bourdieu, “The Philosophical Institution,” in Alan Montefiore, ed., Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 1, 3.

3. Appropriation quotes or parodies other cultural or popular discourses codes, styles or production techniques within a high art discourse and institutionality. See Benjamin Buchloh, “Parody and Appropriation in Francis Picabia, Pop and Sigmar Polke,” Artforum, 20:7 (March 1982), p. 28-34; and “Allegorical Procedures: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art,” Artforum, 21:1 (September 1982), pp. 43-56. Inhabitation parasitically assumes cultural forms or codes, empties them of their “content” and by inserting its own effects a critical disruption. The usual site inhabited is mass media in its ideological formation of mass consciousness. Through the mass media, capitalism in general is critiqued.
     In “Allegorical Procedures,” Buchloh writes: “in Mythologies, 1957, Roland Barthes deconstructed such contemporary myths as designed objects of consumption and advertising. In certain respects this can still be considered as the originary model for the deconstructive approach of the criticism of ideology as it has been developed in the work of the artists analyzed here,” p. 56. Deconstruction has been aligned to early themes of appropriation. But while Barthes’s early writing introduced the strategy of appropriation, it is his later writing of the seventies that lend terms of discourse to a strategy of inhabitation. For example: “He used to think of the world of language (the logo sphere) as a vast and perpetual conflict of paranoids. The only survivors are the systems (fictions, jargons) inventive enough to produce a final figure, the one which brands the adversary with a half-scientific, half-ethical name, a kind of turnstile that permits us simultaneously to describe, to explain, to condemn, to reject, to recuperate the enemy, in a word: to make him pay.... He was astonished that the language of capitalist power does not constitute, at first glance, such a systematic figure (other than of the basest kind, opponents never being called anything but “rabid,” “brainwashed,” etc.); then he realized that the (thereby much higher) pressure of capitalist language is not paranoid, systematic, argumentative, articulated: it is an implacable stickiness, a doxa, a kind of unconscious: in short, the essence of ideology.”
     “To keep these spoken systems from disturbing or embarrassing us, there is no other solution than to inhabit one of them.” Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), p. 28-29; and: “To act as though as innocent discourse could be held against ideology is tantamount to continuing to believe that language can be nothing but the neutral instrument of a triumphant content. In fact, today, there is no language site outside bourgeois ideology: our language comes from it, returns to it, remains closed up in it. The only possible rejoinder is neither confrontation nor destruction, but only theft: fragment the old text of culture, science, literature and change its features according to formulae of disguise, as one disguises stolen goods.” Sade/Fourier/Loyola, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), p. 10.
     Appropriation and inhabitation are thus seen to be the artistic component of a general ideological critique which in return lends art, which can disguise itself, its value as well as its form and strategy. The site and strategy are given further textual and philosophical justification in Jacques Derrida’s “deconstruction”:
     “Our discourse irreducibly belongs to the system of metaphysical oppositions. The break with this structure of belonging can be announced only through a certain organization, a certain strategic arrangement which, within the field of metaphysical opposition, uses the strengths of the field to turn its stratagems against it, producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself throughout the entire system, fissuring it in every direction and thoroughly delimiting it.” Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 20; and: “The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work.” Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatari Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1974), p. 24.

4. Roland Barthes, “Myth Today,” in Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), p. 124. Further references in the text.

5. Barthes talks of myth as an arrest of an audience: “It is turned towards me, I am subjected to its intentional force, it summons me to receive its expansive ambiguity” (p. 124); and of the concept: “The appropriation of the concept is suddenly driven away once more by the literalness of the meaning. This is a kind of arrest, in both the physical and legal sense of the term...” (p. 125).
      General Idea have no difficulty recruiting others to their enterprise. It is the imposed inability to stand outside their work as much as the challenge issued in the following quotation that provoked the response of this lecture/article. In discussing General Idea’s enterprise through their name, one writer states:
“The paradox built into the name exists throughout the work of General Idea and is there to subvert any art historian or critic who might wish to take the upper hand and decipher General Idea’s work. They have thought of all possible interpretations and built them into the work. Acting as corporation, architects and engineers, General Idea have materialized, manipulated, and controlled what was “in the air.” They are the originators and theoreticians of their own identity and projects. Ambiguity, paradox, and irony have given them an image as impenetrable as that of a mega-corporation.” Elke Town, “General Idea,” Fiction (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982).
     Apart from the interest to be given to the question of the author, the copyrightable proper name, implied in their working procedures and their corporate name, what strikes me about this passage is the sweep of assurance: not only the presumption of maintaining control over all possible interpretations, producing all the dangers of a closed system, but also the nonchalance by which this system is able to absorb all that is of contemporary, fashionable, critical value – all that is “in the air”, picking up what is in the air, capitalizing on its currency, to the degree that this system is in the “air”, as the metalanguage that composes the structure of General Idea’s art. And within this all-consuming, quasi-capitalist system, it is the metaphors that disturb – metaphors presumed to give General Idea’s enterprise its “critical” edge: those metaphors of business tending to imperialism: the impenetrable image of the mega-corporation (i.e., multinationals). We know from General Idea that the impenetrable image is a fetish and from Marx that this fetish is capital. General Idea have chosen the highest form of capitalism, the multinational corporation, as the model for their art. Their own form of imperialism is appropriation and inhabitation that expands itself through an enunciation strategy. Since they control the discourse, every interpretation rebounds in these sophisticates’ favour. Every mention is more column inches in the construction of “The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion” and the “myth” of General Idea. But by naively taking them at their word, it is the challenge – the glove of the “Hand of the Spirit” so to speak – that General Idea, and not the catalogue writer, throw down here, that I take up: namely, their “subversion” of anyoritic who might wish to take the upper hand in deciphering their work. Maybe they have thought of all possible interpretations and built them into their work. Then their work is manipulation itself.

6. It is no accident that semiology like capital (and myth) is a system of value. When Saussure tried to revolutionize linguistics he used the example of money to explain the value system of linguistics. In money, a piece of coin can be exchanged against something of real value (use value); on the other hand it can be put into relation with all the other terms of the monetary system (exchange value). It is the latter case for which Saussure reserved the term “value” for language: the internal relativity of a general system of distinct oppositions, of all terms among themselves. And this is set up and valorized against the other possibility as designation (reference) or the relation of a signifier to its signified. It is also no accident that commodity reification has extended to the level of signs, or that production has become a signifying system. Baudrillard calls this “the structural revolution of value” and it is capital that commands all the actual strategy of this system: “Ce n’est pas LA révolution qui met fin à tout cela. C’est le capital lui-même. C’est lui qui abolit la détermination sociale par le mode de production. C’est lui qui substitue à la forms marchande la forme structurale de la valeur. Et c’est elle qui commands toute la stratégie actuelle du système.”  “ Cette révolution consiste en ce que les deux aspects de la valeur, qu’on a pu croire cohérents et éternellement liés comme par une loi naturelle, sont désarticuliés, la valeur référentielle est anéantie au profit du seul jeu structural de la valeur. La dimension structurale s’autonomise á l’exclusion de la dimension référentielle, elle s’institue sur la mort de celle-ci. Finis les référentiels de production, de signification, d’affect, de substance, d’histoire, toute cette équivalence à des contenus “réels” qui lestaient encore le signe d’une sorte de charge utile, de gravité—sa forme d’équivalent représentatif. C’est l’autre stade de la valeur qui l’emporte, celui de la relativité totale, de la commutation générale, combinatoire et simulation. Simulation, au sens où tous les signes s’échangent désormais entre eux sans s’échanger du tout contre du réel (et ils ne s’échangent bien, ils ne s’échangent parfaitement entre eux qu’ à condition de ne plus s’échanger contre du réel).  Émancipation du signe: dégagé de cette obligation “archaïque” qu’il avait de désigner quelque chose, il devient enfin libre pour un jeu structural, ou combinatoire, selon une indifférence et une indétermination totale, qui succède à la règle antérieure d’équivalence déterinée.” Jean Baudrillard, L’Étchange symbolique de la mort Paris, Gallimard, 1976, p. 20, 18.

7. Baudrillard, “Fetishism and Ideology,” For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (St. Louis: Telos, 1981), p. 96, n. 10.
    In the “Glamour” issue when General Idea write, “An object exhibits unashamedly a closure and a brilliance, in a word a SILENCE which belongs to the world of myth,” we could add Baudrillard’s comments that “What fascinates us is always that which radically excludes us in the name of its internal logic or perfection: a mathematical formula, a paranoic system, a concrete jungle, a useless object, or, again, a smooth body, without orifices, doubled and redoubled by a mirror, devoted to perverse autosatisfaction.” Ibid., p. 96.

8. A piece called “Composition/Decomposition” which records a performance of the “destruction” of the “Pavillion” in 1977 is listed in the table of contents of FILE, “1984, A Year in Pictures” as “Construction/Destruction.”

9. It should not be thought that with a turn to “archeology” General Idea are switching allegiance to Foucault. We can compare a statement from a later project by General Idea, “Cornucopia,” to a passage from Barthes’s S/Z which suggests the partial reversibility of a writerly text. General Idea: “The amorphous world of meanings and functions has traditionally been articulated through the architectural act of construction.” But the three artists of General Idea have re-introduced destruction into the architectural process. In their long-term project, the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, ruins are created as quickly as rooms are built. Accumulated layers of function and meaning slip in and out of focus, creating a shifting constellation of images which is the Pavillion itself.
     “One of the most complex groupings of imagery and artifacts is ‘the room of the unknown function.’ Does this room perversely have no function at all? Or is that function too mysterious to penetrate? The objects reproduced here were originally located in this museum-like room. In these objects the dense web of iconography, which is the Pavillion, is unveiled. Imagine these shards as nodes of thought, imaged points of intersection erected in the network of motifs and themes from which the Pavillion is constructed and its fragments dispersed.” General Idea, “Cornucopia,” in Elke Town, Fiction.
     Barthes: “We are, in fact, concerned not to manifest a structure but to produce a structuration. The blanks and looseness of the analysis will be like footprints marking the escape of the text; for if the text is subject to some form, this form is not unitary, architectonic, finite: it is the fragment, the shards, the broken or obliterated network - all the movements and inflections of a vast ‘dissolve,’ which permits both overlapping and loss of messages.” Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), p. 20. The escape from the burning “Pavillion” is an escape of, not from, the text.

10.  Baudrillard has commented on the loss of referentiality and interchangeabillity of theories during the seventies:
“La production théorique, comme la production matérielle, perd ses déterminations et commence à tourner sur elle-même, décrochant “en abîme” vers une réalitié introuvable. Nous en sommes là aujourd’hui: dans l’indécidabilité, à l’ère des théories flottantes comme des monnaies flottantes. Toutes les théories actuelles, de quelque horizon qu’elles viennent (et psychanalytiques aussi bien), de quelque violence qu’elles s’arment et prétendent retrouver une immanence, ou une mouvance sans référentiels (Deleuze, Lyotard, etc.), toutes les théories flottent et n’ont de sens que de se fairs signe les unes aux autres. Il est vain de les requérir sur leur cohérence avec quelque “réalité” que ce soit. Le système a ôté toute caution référentielle à la force de travail théorique comme à I’autre. Il n’y a plus de valeur d’usage de la théorie non plus, le miroir de la production théorique est fêlé lui aussi. Et ceci est dans l’ordre. Je veux dire que cette indécidabilité même de la théorie est un effet de code. Pas d’illusion en effet: cette flottaison des théories n’a rien d’une “dérive” schizophrénique où les flux passeraient librement sur les corps sans organe (de quoi? du capital?). Elle signifie simplement que toutes les théories peuvent désormais s’échanger entre elles selon des taux de change variable, mais sans plus s’investir nuile part, sinon dans le miroir de leur écriture.” L’Échange symbolique, p. 21, n. 1.
     General Idea’s Magic Cocktail Palettes, both as objects in the Colour Bar Lounge and as an “advertisement” in the videotape Test Tube, valorize the same notions in terms of inhabitation: “Have you got a drinking problem? Do you feel confused when faced with today’s bewildering choice of drinking possibilities? Do you find it difficult to make up your mind? Does ‘never mix, never worry’ prevent you from enjoying the full spectrum of drinking combinations? Have you got a drinking problem? Do you resent the traditional dogma of wine in glasses, brandy in snifters? Don’t you long to mix aesthetics, dodge expectations, be creative? Would you like to vary your contents without being labelled neurotic or schizo? If you have a drinking problem, General Idea has the answer. At the Colour Bar we call it... the solution. With this handy tray and glasses you can mix yourself multiple drinks and no worry about incompatible rhetorics. Tired of those same old contents? With these magnetic glasses you can always spill the contents without breaking the context and fill them up again. Remember, the solution. Decision making is obsolete... at the Colour Bar Lounge.” FILE, 4:4 (Fall 1980), p. 32-33.

11. “It stems from the fact that a Theory of the Text cannot be satisfied by a metalinguistic exposition: the destruction of metalanguage or at least (since it may be necessary provisonally to resort to metalanguage) its calling into doubt, is part of the theory itself: the discourse on the Text should itself be nothing other than text, research, textual activity, since the Text is that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in a position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder.” Barthes, “From Work to Text,” in Image-Music-Text, ed. and trans. Stephen Heath (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1977), p. 164.

12. Barthes, S/Z, p. 20.

13. “Desire is anti-capitalist. Present economies of production and distribution do not allow for an economy of desire. Nevertheless, ‘the bureaucrat strokes his files.’
     “But as capitalism’s complex resonance amplifies strange new need, its mushrooming electronic communications gadgetry creates hiding spots in tangled circuitry for perverted modern lovers... Two men, two telephones and certain electronic circuitry (established for entirely different reasons) combine to form a simple desiring ma- chine. The gay connection is particular here, because gay eroticism is group eroticism (as distinct from group sex).
     “So, too, the punk machine: 200 fans in a closed environment pump and strain in pogo rhythms, sex pistons, an essential component of the musician/audio equipment/ audience desiring machine. Spitting provides the electrical connection that bypasses the contained sexuality of the family to power this group desire.
     “This is an anarchist motion by definition: decision making is not a reflection of hierarchical control of groups or masses (Capitalism/Fascism) nor of theoretical Marxist equalities. In anarchy desire is restored to its central orchestrating role.
     “The patterns of desire are networks riddling the logics and the hierarchies of our capitalist/socialist superstructure. As the superstructure weakens, these patterns become apparent.” AA Bronson, “Pogo Dancing in the British Aisles,” FILE, 3:4 (Fall 1977), p.17.

14. “As we shall see, capitalism is the only social machine that is constructed on the basis of decoded flows, substituting for intrinsic codes an axiomatic of abstract quantities in the form of money. Capitalism therefore liberates the flows of desire, but under the social conditions that define its limits and the possibility of its own dissolution, so that it is constantly opposing with all its exasperated strength the movement that drives it towards this limit.” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Viking, 1977), p. 139-40.
     “Mais la déliaison des énergies est la forme même du système actuel, celle d’une dérive stratégique de la valour. Le systéme peut se brancher, se débrancher – toutes les énergies libérées lui reviennent un jour: c’est lui qui a produit le concept même d’énergie et d’intensité. Le capital est un système énergétique et intense. D’où l’impossibilité de distinguer (Lyotard) I’économie libidinale de I’économie même du système (celle de la valeur)—l’impossibilité de distinguer (Deleuze) la schize capitaliste de la schize révolutionnaire. Car le système est le maître(...).” Baudrillard, L’Échange symbolique, p. 12, n. 2.

15. Delimitation can take place, as in Derrida, through a disruption of form. On the other hand, one can question the limit and edge as a strategy to disrupt the interior. Thus an art discourse can adapt the “concepts” and metaphors of a deconstructive, symptomatic or perverse inhabitation, a theorization of the margin and periphery in a valorization and extension of the limits, which at the same time are pockets (Barthes) the nomadic displacement or intensive drift of Deleuze or Lyotard, or the transgression of Bataille.

16.  Any statement by Marx on value and its self-valorization is appropriate here. For instance: “It is constantly changing from one form into another, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject. If we pin down the specific forms of appearance assumed in turn by self-valorizing value in the course of its life, we reach the following elucidation: capital is money, capital is commodities. In truth, however, value is here the subject of a process in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization. By virtue of being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself...
     “As the dominant subject of this process, in which it alternately assumes and loses the form of money and the form of commodities, but preserves and expands itself through all these changes, value requires above all an independent form by means of which its identity with itself may be asserted. Only in the shape of money does it possess this form. Money therefore forms the starting-point and the conclusion of every valorization process.” Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage, 1977), p. 255.
     Lukàcs extended Marx’s analysis of the commodity to artistic conditions under imperialism that likewise is applicable here: “On the one hand, there arises an ever-more decided apology for imperialist capitalism, while on the other hand this apology is clad in the form of a critique of the present. The more strongly capitalism develops, and the stronger its internal contradictions consequently become, the less possible it is to make direct and open defence of the capitalist economy the centrepieces of an ideological justification of the capitalist system. The social process that led to the transformation of classical economics into a vulgarizing apologetics is at work of course in other fields besides that of economics, and affects both content and form of bourgeois ideology as a whole. There is therefore a general estrangement from the concrete problems of the economy, a concealment of the connections between economy, society and ideology, with the result that these questions are increasingly mystified. The growing mystification and mythologization also makes it possible for the results of the capitalist system, which appear ever more clearly, and cannot be dismissed even by the apologists themselves, to be in part recognized and criticized. For the mythologizing of problems open a way to presenting what is criticized either outside any connection with capitalism, or else giving capitalism itself so evaporated, distorted and mystified a form that the criticism does not lead to any kind of struggle, but rather to a parasitic acquiescence with the system...... Georg Lukàcs, “Expressionism: Its Significance and Decline,” Essays on Realism, trans. David Fernbach (Cambridge: MIT, 1981), p. 81-82.

17 . “.....the exchange of commodities originates not within the primitive communities, but where they end, on the borders at the few points where they come into contact with other communities. That is where barter begins, and from here it strikes back into the interior of the community, decompositing it.” Marx, Capital.

18. Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, trans. Vincent R. Carfagno (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), p. 101, 98-99; Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Seabury, 1972), p. 209-210; General Idea, Showcard 1-084, published in General Idea’s Reconstructing Futures, Toronto, 1978.

19. One of General Idea’s latest works, and first commission, was for the Toronto Stock Exchange, 1983.